So the past week has really brought into focus the very ugly issue of bullying in all of its various forms, whether done at school, or over the computer, or by posting videos or pictures of someone without their permission. It’s sickening, of course, and disheartening that – in this day and age – we are still dealing with the issue.
From what I’ve read, or at least from the statistics I’ve seen for the past month, there have been a number of teen suicides because of bullying and it appears that all of these teens were gay and most likely had not come out for their own reasons. It’s not like everyone greets gay people – yet alone gay teens – with open arms. There is still a terrible bias against gay people in this country, a country that is founded upon the separation of church and state.
I understand that many people believe that being gay is against what their religion preaches and they are lucky – as we all are – to live in a country that allows us to practice our religion in whatever way we wish. But there is nothing in our constitution that addresses a person’s sexuality. In fact, our Declaration of Independence says that “all men are created equal”.
When our founding fathers wrote that document, that phrase in essence meant all straight white men are created equal, because women and people of color and certainly gay people were not allowed any of the rights that straight white men had. We fought a Civil War in this country, a war which tore our land apart, to end slavery and to ensure rights for people of color. And it wasn’t until 1920, when the 19th amendment to our Constitution was finally ratified, that women were given the right to vote. But we have never truly addressed on a national basis the rights of gay people in America, beyond the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the military. There are states which have enacted laws allowing gay people to marry and adopt children – in other words, live the same life that you and I take for granted every single day – but they can’t take it for granted because they’ve been excluded from those basic rights their whole lives.
We have people being killed in America because of their sexuality. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was murdered and his killers said he was targeted because he was gay. Just Googling this topic brought up many instances – including people killed while they were in the military – of men and women being assaulted or killed because they were gay.
And now we have the case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers student who chose to end his life because his personal life was exposed via video without his knowledge or consent. It’s heartbreaking to know that this young man felt he had no choice, no options but to leave this world behind. One of the things I’ve always heard is that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem but I have to believe that – when you are in despair over being bullied because of who you are, or what you believe in, or who you love, or how you choose to live your life – that feeling of despair may just overwhelm you to the point that no other option seems viable. And how sad is that for all of us.
Bullying in any form is awful. What possible gain does a person get out of bullying someone else? I have told my great kid many times – times when he was sad because someone had said something to him in person or online that was unkind and at times even cruel – that people bully other people, people say mean things to other people, people belittle and taunt and tease other people because that’s the only way they can feel good about themselves. I truly believe that the people who engage in this behavior have such low self-esteem, or hate themselves, or don’t believe in themselves, and they choose the only weapon in their arsenal – their words, whether spoken or written – to bring someone else down because they believe bringing someone down elevates them. How sad those people must be, to live such a life that requires them to hurt someone else to take away their own hurt.
I don’t know what we can do as a country, or on a state basis, or locally about bullying. But I do know that we can all do something on an individual basis. We can think before we speak; we can reach out to someone who might be different from us in how they look, or how they speak, or what they believe; we can remember that words can hurt more than physical actions and an unkind word spoken is a bell you can not un-ring. And maybe if enough of us take the individual steps to try to treat each other the way we want to be treated, to try to live life with a little more civility than what we’re surrounded with every day, to remember that we all are truly created equal, to support someone who is going through a bad time, to put yourself in someone else’s place – then maybe we can each affect change in our own little world. If enough of us do that, we can become better people, more tolerant humans, loving and caring and supporting each other as we all struggle to get through this life. It is not an issue of can we do this – it is “will we do this”?
I will. Will you?